WinterhordeThis album from the splendid ViciSolum label, which looks after a number of my favourite bands including Persefone and Loch Vostok, has been my companion for the last week. I didn’t know previously about Winterhorde who are from Israel but I can say now that this has not just been an album to review, but one to which of the prospect of listening yet another time has been a source of excitement and anticipation. I guess I’d better tell you why.

It’s a cliché to say that bands are indefinable. It’s not right anyway. I found myself playing that guessing game “who does this sound like?” and came up with some answers and some blanks. What’s distinctive is the vibrant and constantly transforming atmosphere. No musical stone is unturned. It’s kind of black metal opera, but other than occasional symphonic parts there’s none of that operatic singing. It’s as dark as hell for the most part, but theatrical like Carach Angren or Queen, who I admire for their artistry but can’t say I’m a fan. This is different. Every track is a mini-masterpiece, not so mini in the case of the eleven and a half minute epic “The Heart of Coryphee”.

The first thing I noticed was a playful element in a death-black horror kind of way. Closing doors, melancholic piano refrains and the utterances of a manic man set the scene. Then “Antipath”’s bouncy tune comes along, but it is steeped in sadness thanks to the violin and dark atmosphere. All this recalls a point somewhere between Diablo Swing Orchestra and Carach Angren. “Boring Hell, Satan asked for an orchestra” is the line, which I misheard as “Burning Hell” until I read the lyric sheet. At first I thought the ghoulish black metal track “Worms of Soul” which followed the upbeat and extravagant “Antipath” was strange, but it too has the flamboyant horror-packed gestures which you’d find in a Carach Angren work. This is a massive adventure, none more so than “The Heart of Coryphee”. This is the equivalent of Queen going black metal. It’s epic, evocative, massive, mystical, extravagant and even has a tinge of the Middle East in the haunting chorus at the end. By contrast “A Dying Swan” is characterised by symphonic sadness while the title track features the sound of a steam train. There are no rules but the movement is layered and fluid, and it drives forward in a darkly majestic way. “Cold” starts with a superb saxophone piece and has such a powerful build-up that it’s like being hit by a lead weight.

This whole album is total drama. Its unconventional structure, absence of rules, contrasting moods and boundless spirit all make “Maestro” a masterpiece of invention and creativity.

(9.5/10 Andrew Doherty)